Catastrophe In The Opening

James Plaskett

Reviewer: John Donaldson
Everyman Chess
144 pages

Catastrophe In The Opening is a collection of eighty-eight miniature games organized around the theme of “crime and punishment.” Grandmaster Plaskett, who is known for his sharp and uncompromising brand of chess, divides his seven chapters into:

Poisoned Pawns
Castling Into It
Trapping the Queen
Attacks on the Uncasted King
Structural Superiority
Eye Off the Ball

This type of book has been done before, a collection of miniature games that teaches tactics and how to attack, but Plaskett’s is one of the better ones. The first thing that makes it a first rate collection of miniatures is the selection, which runs the gamut from old classics to contemporary games. Approximately twenty percent of the games (both wins and losses) were played by Plaskett, and I am sure several of them are not in Mega Database 2005. Where else are you going to find Oleg Romanishin at the height of his powers beating a young James Plaskett with a nice tactical shot in a simul in 1977?

There is a tendency to dismiss miniatures as a cheap trick or two, but that is not the case here. Check out McShane-G.Lee, British Championship, Hove 1997: 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nd2 dxe4 4.Nxe4 Nd7 5.Nf3 Ngf6 6.Nxf6+ Nxf6 7.Bd3 b6 8.0-0 Bb7 9.b3 Be7 10.c4 0-0 11.Bb2 c5 12.dxc5 bxc5 13.Qe2 Qc7 14.Rad1 Qc6. Now try to guess White’s next move? How about 15.Qe5! to transfer the Queen to g3! That is an idea you are not likely to forget.

Another amazing battle is Short-Sulava, Ohrid 2001. This should have been a miniature after 1.e4 d5 2.exd5 Qxd5 3.Nc3 Qd6 4.d4 Nf6 5.Be3 Bf5? 6.Qf3! Bc8 7.0-0-0 c6 8.Bf4 Qb4 9.Nge2 Be6?? 10.Bc7! and Black was forced to surrender his Queen but battled back to a draw in 59 moves versus his 2700 opponent.

The last game of the book, Shabalov-D.Gurevich, San Diego 2004, is well worth checking out with an interesting new idea in the opening and a razor sharp middlegame.

Plaskett does a very good job of explaining what is going on in a style that is fun to read. Sprinkled throughout Catastrophe In The Opening are observations like. “In 1983, Nunn said to me that he thought there were two players in the world who played complex middlegames with lots of pieces on the board particularly well: Hort and Spassky.” After reading this book your chess culture will definitely improve.